By Chris Derrett
After dropping a 77-59 decision at Missouri on Wednesday, Baylor men’s basketball battles Texas A&M at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The Bears look for their first season sweep of the Aggies since 2000.
Any Baylor (17-10, 6-7) loss in its last three regular season games against Texas A&M, Oklahoma State or Texas will drop coach Scott Drew’s team to .500 at best in Big 12 play. Since the Big 12’s inception in the 1996-97 season, only one team, the 2008 Aggies, qualified for the NCAA tournament with an 8-8 league record.
The league’s other 74 tournament qualifiers finished at least 9-7.
“We’ve had some tough games, but we’ve always bounced back. We’ve always competed and fought. I know that’s something we’ll continue to do,” Drew said Monday.
The last time the Aggies lost, Baylor was celebrating in Reed Arena. After the Bears’ 76-74 overtime win on Feb. 5 in College Station, Texas A&M has tallied five straight wins.
The red hot Aggies are led by Khris Middleton, who has enjoyed double-figure scoring in each of the last five games. Middleton’s team has taken care of the ball as well, recording at least as many assists as turnovers in each contest during its winning streak.
Aggie head coach Mark Turgeon says his squad might take a slightly different approach in its lineup against Baylor.
“We didn’t have Ray [Turner] against Baylor the first game, and I didn’t play Keith [Davis], which was probably a mistake,” Turgeon said after beating Oklahoma. “We hope to play a little bit bigger of a lineup maybe. We’ll see.”
Turner, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, played only five minutes against the Bears, and the 6-foot-9 center Davis did not play at all. Both could see more time Saturday to better match the Bears’ size inside and help the Texas A&M avoid conceding another 30 points in the paint as it did Feb. 5.
For Baylor, Saturday will once again test its aptitude in several categories that have doomed the Bears in losses.
Among the issues is the Bears’ often-frustrating assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranks 11th in conference play, and turnover margin, where the Bears rank last.
Sophomore point guard A.J. Walton is seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio among all Big 12 players who average at least three assists per game.
“A.J. has done a very good job studying film and trying to get better,” Drew said.
In the win over the Aggies, Baylor overcame 17 turnovers and 18 points off turnovers.
Another key factor Saturday could be freshman Perry Jones III, who scored 27 points in part one of the Battle of the Brazos.
Feeding Jones III the ball could be crucial, considering the 6-foot-11 forward has not finished with single-digit scoring yet in Big 12 play. He has also taken double-digit field goal attempts in seven of the Bears’ 13 conference games.
While the final three regular season games carry more meaning to the team as whole than any individual, Drew would not mind seeing one of his players top the Big 12 record books in the process.
Senior LaceDarius Dunn needs 28 points to become the Big 12’s leading scorer, a record Texas Tech’s Andre Emmett currently holds with 2,256 points.
But a scoreless first half like Dunn had against Missouri, his first scoreless half since Dec. 15, 2009, will spell trouble for both Dunn and the Bears.
At this point, Drew said, trouble is not an option.
“Every game for the second half of the season’s been a ‘must’ game,” Drew said.